This is the season for catching up with Academy Award nominees, but some future prizewinners never make it to the multiplex.
That’s what independent cinema is for. Starting this weekend and continuing for the next several weeks, the Liberty in Camas and the Kiggins in downtown Vancouver have found ample time in their busy schedules to screen the great, award-nominated movies that won’t get the widespread attention they surely deserve — simply because they’re short features, not full-length ones.
This is the 13th year that the so-called “Oscar Shorts,” most of which are between five and 30 minutes long, have been bundled for movie-theater viewing. The Academy Awards themselves are set for the evening of March 4, so you’ve got time to take in these little films before the big award ceremony names final favorites.
Both the Kiggins and the Liberty plan to screen these gems as many times as possible before March 4, and schedules beyond Feb. 15 have yet to be finalized, so make sure to check the theaters’ websites for your latest options.
Three genres of short films are on tap: Live-action movies, animated features and documentaries. But Richard Beer, programming director at the Kiggins and a short-film connoisseur who takes in hundreds every year as he helps curate the offerings for various local and regional film festivals, said he’s aware of two basic approaches to making short films.
If You Go
• Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.
• What: Animation program.
• When: 1 and 7:40 p.m. today; 1:30 and 5:40 p.m. Sunday; 8:10 p.m. Monday; 6 p.m. Tuesday; 3:20 p.m. Wednesday.
• What: Documentaries “A” program.
• When: 3 and 9:30 p.m. today; 3:30 p.m. Sunday; 6 p.m. Monday; 8 p.m. Tuesday.
• What: Documentaries “B” and Live Action programs open on Friday; schedules TBA.
• Cost: $10 at the door; $7 online in advance; $6 on Mondays. $30 for full series pass.
• Information: www.kigginstheatre.com
• Where: Liberty Theatre, 315 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.
• What: Animation program.
• When: 2 and 6:15 p.m. today; 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
• What: Documentaries “A” program.
• When: 11:30 a.m. Sunday; 5:40 p.m. Monday; 5:50 p.m. Wednesday.
• What: Live Action program.
• When: 4:15 p.m. Sunday; 5:40 p.m. Tuesday; 5:40 p.m. Thursday.
• What: Documentaries “B” program opens Feb. 16; schedule TBA.
• Cost: $6
• Information: www.camasliberty.com
One is limited and predictable. “I call them gag films,” Beer said. “You set something up, you knock it down. There’s the banana peel, there’s the slip. They’re like Benny Hill skits.”
Beer’s favorites, on the other hand, are deeper films that somehow evoke a whole world despite their brevity. “It may be a slice of life,” Beer said. “You don’t know where it’s going to go. You’re not being led by the hand.”
Some fledgling moviemakers treat short films as stepping stones to bigger things — and it shows, Beer said. Others devote themselves to the short as its own art form.
Beer has viewed all the Oscar Shorts and recommends that you don’t miss the following:
- “The Silent Child” is a 20-minute, live-action drama about the tug of war between lip reading and sign language in a profoundly deaf girl’s upbringing. “Her parents and family don’t know how to deal with her,” Beer said. “Her mother wants her to learn lip reading, but they bring in a tutor who begins to teach her to sign.
- “It’s a charming, sweet story,” Beer said. “It’s one of the few that had me tearing up at the end.” According to the press materials, the 5-year-old star of “The Silent Child” was playing to type; she’s profoundly deaf.
- “Heroin(e)” is a 39-minute documentary about three professional women — a fire chief, a judge and a minister — at the epicenter of America’s opioid epidemic, in West Virginia. The movie is gritty and disturbing but also “shows a lot of good being done and is really heartwarming,” Beer said.
- Beer noted that several of last year’s documentaries focused on the Syrian refugee crisis and were so unrelentingly tragic, some moviegoers actually complained. This year’s documentaries “have what last year’s documentaries didn’t have, which is hope,” he said.
- “Knife Skills” is another documentary that’s full of hope — and great food. It’s about the opening of a world-class French restaurant (in Ohio) that is staffed by people building new lives after getting out of prison. “That’s another epidemic we have in this country, and the movie is showing a way we can fix it,” Beer said.
- “Negative Space” is a 6-minute animated short about a boy bonding with his father while helping him pack a suitcase; “Revolting Rhymes” is a 29-minute animated short based on author Roald Dahl’s twisted versions of beloved fairy tales. Plus, there’s always an extra-cute Pixar production in the animation mix, Beer said.
There are no refugee stories in this year’s batch, but current events are represented with honesty, vitality — and hope. “Watu Wote (All of Us)” is a 23-minute drama based on a terrifying, true incident that took place in 2015 in Kenya. When terrorists seized a bus and demanded that the Muslim passengers identify all the Christian ones, the Muslims heroically refused. They even camouflaged their Christian neighbors, and insisted that the terrorists would have to kill everyone — or leave.
And, there’s “Dekalb Elementary,” a 20-minute drama about an averted school shooting; “My Nephew Emmett,” about a 1955 lynching that became a turning point in the American civil rights movement; and “Traffic Stop,” a gripping dashboard-camera documentary that witnesses the arrest and abuse of a black schoolteacher by Texas police — as well as a revealing squad car conversation while she’s taken to jail.
Predict the winners
The animated films are mostly quite short, so that program is rounded out to a total of 83 minutes thanks to some bonus, non-nominated animated films that Beer said are just as good as the nominees. The documentaries, on the other hand, tend to go long (30 to 40 minutes), so that genre has been split into two different programs, A and B — each of them approximately 100 minutes long.
If you are a major short-film geek, consider buying a $30 Kiggins punch card, which gets you into all the Oscar Shorts screenings as well as your own chance to win. If you see all the Oscar Shorts programs and get your card punched, you’ll get a ballot to fill out and turn in. After the actual Academy Awards take place, the Kiggins will hold a drawing among all correct ballots (with just three categories, Beer said, accurately predicting all the winners isn’t too rare). The big winner gets a Kiggins Box: popcorn bowl, movie passes and your choice of soda tumbler, pint glass or wine glass.